“Downhill” (REVIEW) A Capable Remake

Downhill (2020) Searchlight Pictures

“Downhill” is directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell headlining. This is an American remake of the 2014 Swedish film “Force Majeure.” It premiered at Sundance and is getting a theatrical release this weekend in the US. Now I hadn’t seen the original prior to watching this one so I went in as a blank slate. I was able to take the movie in as it was to form an unbiased opinion. Afterwards, I went and caught “Force Majeure” to see the differences and how I would like it overall in comparison to this version. I would say the preferable film to me would depend on my mood at the time as I think they both offer their own distinct emotional tone, despite having the same plot.

Top-to-bottom the original is the more complete film in terms of writing, performances, cinematography, scoring and how everything was wrapped it into an intelligently artistic package. But the American remake is not a far reach from it in my opinion. It does aim more for the humor with the use of cliche side-characters and the cartoonish mannerisms of Ferrell. But it also hits with more of a dramatic impact on a few occasions which gives it a raw emotional intensity that the original lacked.

This movie also brings very capable direction and cinematography, it’s a beautifully shot film, and regardless of its minor shortcomings to the original in terms of comparison. On its own, this was an enjoyable movie. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was given a much meatier role than Ferrell with a wider arc and she brought a great performance. After a near miss from a controlled avalanche, seeing her husband grab his phone and run leaving her and their two kids behind, she has a lot of internal conflict inside her. This ignites a wave of turmoil as to where their marriage was going to go, and Louis-Dreyfus delivered it all with a heartfelt sincerity. I was curious to see what she would ultimately do to either rebuild the foundation of her family or let it crumble because of one instance that could speak to a larger issue.

Her emotional wave of reactions throughout created a connection that invested me in the story. Not having seen the original, it was her character that maintained that intrigue as to where their marriage would stand at the end credits. Ferrell was capable as well and shared a natural timing and chemistry with Louis-Dreyfus to sell their aged relationship. He was able to hit some solid emotional beats as well to remind you that he can do drama when the role requires. But given he is Will Ferrell there were some familiar moments that were routine reminders I was watching Will Ferrell. Not his character Pete, a man that was grieving from the loss of his father and troubled by the fact his heart may not be in his marriage.

That was the main hindrance in this movie for me. The humor did get in the way at times, but it was still a comical movie overall. The issue for me was that as a husband, that character was the only one I was unable to connect with. I could put myself in the place of Billie to feel the turmoil she felt about her marriage. I could also connect with the two kids who get pulled into the middle of their parents’ argument, and the stormy environment that can create. Yet with the childish approach given to Ferrell as the husband he came off more immature than his own kids at times which I didn’t like so much.

Instead of feeling like a down-to-earth clash between a mature married couple, and how they would work things out in a practical way. Through some of Ferrell’s routine antics there is a feeling of a wife without a partner. And instead, a husband that is like one of her kids for the simple sake of some laughs in the story. It doesn’t damper the message too much, but it does give the movie a bit of a novelty vibe in places where the original never charted. Again though, this is a remake. A re-imagining of the original plot-line. It’s going to be different and while not all of what this film tries works effectively, enough does to make it enjoyable from a pure story-telling aspect despite not necessarily rivaling its predecessor.

Visually I thought the direction and cinematography was excellently done. The landscapes are stunning, and they provide constant visual appeal in the backdrop of scenes. The motion of the camera was fluid and it translates to a depth that can immerse the viewer into the snowy paradise. The run-time also keeps it short which I felt kept the engagement up. There was still a slight lull during the second-act but for the most part the pace is pretty switch. And with nice splashes of comedy, and stark jabs of drama there was a charming ebb and flow to the mood that I enjoyed and felt made the film an easy watch. It captured my imagination and had me invested in this family dealing with troubled times. It doesn’t feel melodramatic and even though some humor is forced it still maintained an amusing tone that didn’t undercut the drama as much as you would expect.

If you like the trailers give it a shot, you may have fun with it. If you love “Force Majeure” you may not. This movie didn’t deliver the same package the original did. But it does put together a solid movie its own, without it feeling like a simple copy.


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